Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Happy Birthday, Richard Wagner



Today is Richard (pronounced Rick-ard) Wagner's (pronounced Vaag-ner) 200th Birthday. Wagner, sort of the classic rogue-as-brilliant-artist, was an anti-semite, a misogynist, and an all around bad guy, but he was also a musical and artistic genius, and I think a perfect example of how sometimes it is a worthwhile endeavor to separate works of art from their creator.

Wagner is best known for his operas. Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung, which being also partly based on the Old Norse Poetic Edda, shares some similarities to Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings), Tristan und Isolde, Parsifal, Lohengrin, and others. He was an absolute master of what is known as Gesamtkunstwerk (one of those funky compound German words, which means "total work of art"), so said because he composed the music, the lyrics, the set, the blocking, the lighting, and essentially every creative or dramatic element that went into his productions.

My father was the stage manager of the Seattle Opera in the 80s. I had the immense pleasure to play both a Nibelung (an underground slave-dwarf type creature) and young Siegfried in a production of The Ring Cycle (it's four operas) when I was a boy. I could go on about the beauty of Wagner's stories for a while (themes included Buddhist concepts of reincarnation, in Parsifal, Arthurian legend, in Tristan und Isolde, and human ambition pitted against divine power, in The Ring).

Wagner is known for creating some of history's most memorable works of music. I'll leave you with two of them:

The Bridal Chorus, from Lohengrin, often butchered at weddings in modern times and sometimes referred to as Here Comes the Bride:



And The Ride of the Valkyries, probably the most famous movement in the history of opera:

24 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Cool you got to play two parts in one of his plays.

Dani said...

I have an uncle who's name is Richard Wagner. My name maiden name should be pronounced Vaag-ner. In fact my German teacher always called me that - Fräulein Vaɡnər.
I bet you are quite the thespian.

Hart Johnson said...

HA! Wagners has a cameo in my book that just came out... erm... it might reveal he's not my favorite. I find him depressing. I might have been able to tell psychically that he was sort of a jerk *shifty* But it is sort of funny to run across this with this timing.

SA Larsenッ said...

I didn't know your father was a stage manager. Cool! I'm picturing you as a slave dwarf, right now. Hmm....

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

You continue to be one of the most interesting people I know. And you got me to listen to Opera on a Wednesday morning, so go you. ;)

Faith E. Hough said...

My maiden name is Wagner, but despite that I don't care for Richard's operas very much. (Though I do love certain themes--both musical and literary.) Still...he was a genius and quite an interesting guy. :)

Louise Bates said...

Love Wagner's music (didn't know anything at all about his morals before now ... almost think I preferred it that way. Ah well, Mozart didn't exactly have a stellar character, either, and most people don't hold that against his music). I still remember watching the Ring Cycle on PBS when I was a really little kid, and falling in love with the whole story and concept. One of my dreams is to someday see one of those operas live! That's awesome that you got to perform in them when you were a kid.

mshatch said...

Yeah, I knew he wasn't the sort of person I'd want to spend time with but he sure did create some amazing music.

Munir said...

I used to think that good people are good over all, until I came to know that Mahatma Gandhi had raised his hands on his wife. I am not surprised that the author you have mentioned was a misogynist while being an excellent author. I guess we all are human beings and come as a mixed package of good and bad.

Old Kitty said...

If it hadn't been for Wagner, we'd not have What's Opera Doc!! Ahem. Take care
x

Sheena-kay Graham said...

Didn't know of him before but you make Wagner sound amazing. Kudos.

Steve MC said...

Had no clue he wrote "Here Comes the Bride." And that second one could be the theme to any blockbuster, including "Raiders."

Thanks for the insight, you musical underground slave-dwarf. :-)

Andrew Leon said...

And it will always be best remembered from its Looney Tunes adaptation.

Susan Kane said...

What an experience! Richard Burton did a fairly decent Wagner.

CA Heaven said...

Some great music, for sure. The Wagner Festwoche in Beyreuth is sold out years in advance.

I think Wagener was somewhat misused by the nazis. Wagner died 40 years before Hitler wrote Mein Kampf.

Cold As Heaven

Jean said...

I love Arthur Rackham's drawings and have some of the illustrations used in the second video.

I was just yesterday thinking of changing my first name to Odd
(pronounced: AA-Dey) which is a girls name which is Norse.

Thanks for the cool post!

jean

Michael Offutt, "Johnny on the Spot" said...

If he was a misogynist, he was probably religious. The two go hand in hand. Like the asshole that shot himself in Notre Dame this week. Super religious nutcase and extremist to the end.

Melanie Schulz said...

Your childhood sounds so interesting!

Christina Lee said...

Really, "Rick-ard" (well, duh on my part). What an interesting tidbit about your father and little boy Matt!

Angela Ackerman said...

Matt, you are an onion! That's so cool.

Gina Gao said...

I really like his music! Thanks for sharing.

www.modernworld4.blogspot.com

Creepy Query Girl said...

I like your sentiment about seperating art from the artist and wagner had some pretty important compositions to his name!

Deniz Bevan said...

How awesome that you were in two Wagner productions!
I love Wagner. I was probably too young for it when I was reading all sorts of biographies about him... I should go back and reread!

Arlee Bird said...

He wrote some great music. He did a great job with his addition to the Apocalypse Now soundtrack.

Lee
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